Question and answer details
|Name of Questioner:||Mel (34-female-Canada)|
|Question:||Salam `alaikum,I think I am faith depressed and I do not know how to get better. Whenever I try to read the Quran, I get depressed. All I seem to get is that I am doing everything wrong and that I will burn in hellfire. Praying has become a chore and I am constantly thinking bad thoughts before, during and after prayer. Actually, I am constantly thinking bad things about my faith and my God. I do not feel motivated to ask for forgiveness or to do any acts of worship. I have become totally belligerent in my faith and thinking things like “I never asked to be created” or “Why is life all about struggling and suffering…and if I get any pleasure, I will likely suffer or burn in hell for it”. Whenever I learn something new that I should not do and that I will be punished for…instead of being afraid…I just chalk it up as one more thing I will burn for. I know I should not lose hope but even that has me depressed for I read that losing hope is akin to shirk…which leads to hell. I have become lazy, I am always late for prayer and I feel no desire to fast or do dhikr. I can’t wait to be menstruated so I do not have to pray. I do not want to live but do not want to die either. I feel hopeless and helpless and yet somehow, I am filled with arrogance and probably hypocrisy too. I feel like it’s not fair even though I know that is a childish thought. I used to be full of iman and I thought Islam was so beautiful…but after learning more and more instead of gaining in faith, I have lost faith. I still believe in Allah and angels and heaven and hell and so on…but I have become so diseased that I fear that’s next. I do not drink or fornicate or steal – I try not to lie and I try to be somewhat good…but always I feel like it’s not enough and I am just exhausted and exasperated. Everything is rules and work, rules and work. I want to be good and do good but it’s just too much. For a while I was making myself sick with it all and then I guess self preservation kicked in and I started not caring anymore. I don’t know what to do. Sometimes I make duaa and ask Allah for help but I feel insincere and I recall something along the lines of “Allah helps those who help themselves” and I am left wallowing in my pool of self made misery. I read hadith or the Quran and I read things that I just can’t accept or that I think are not fair. Yet, I know Allah is just and compassionate…and so the fault lies with me. I am flawed, diseased or perhaps Allah has made me blind and confused due to my sinfulness. I just feel like I’m going to hell no matter what I do and I am just short of committing total debauchery in the hopes that I will only burn for a while before being released. This perhaps is my only hope, if you can call it that. Sometimes, I am jealous of Christians…who seem to have it easier. The bible seems less scary and there aren’t so many rules. I know that Islam is the truth but…it’s just so much harder and stressful to be Muslim. I also fear that my being this way and having these thoughts will negatively impact my children. How can I teach them Islam when I am filled with doubt and other bad feelings and thoughts? What can I do? I feel like I need some counseling but there are no Muslim counselors here…either I can talk to an imam, who cannot give me what I need or a non-Muslim counselor. I do not want a…”make du`aa, pray on time etc. etc. and you will be fixed” answer because I believe I need to get to the root of my problem, so I can fix it from there instead of just band-aiding it. Otherwise, it will just happen again. I need to know why I started thinking like this. I need to convince my mind and I know my heart will follow in sha’ Allah. I do not want to be in this slump when I die and if I am lucky enough to get out of it once…I do not know if I can do it again. I am very good at creating doubts, perceiving problems, asking unanswerable questions and running circles in my head which usually lead me in a downward spiral. Can someone please help me or point me in the right direction? Thank you in advance. Salam and may Allah shower you with blessings.|
|Counselor:||Dr. ‘Abd. Lateef Krauss Abdullah|
In the Name of Allah, The Most Merciful, The Most Kind
Assalamu `alaikum dear sister,
Sister, my heart goes out to you. You sound as if you are in a virtual prison of your mind and heart and see very little hope of ever getting out. There may be many different factors and elements influencing your state of mind that go way beyond the parameters of your question.
Unfortunately, I am limited to what you have stated here and I cannot guess what or how many things might be influencing you. By that I mean everything from physical, metaphysical, health-related, family-related, economic and other factors that could be influencing how you feel about life, your religion and yourself.
As such, I will only speak to what I know from what you have told us, which is not a lot. And I encourage you to follow up with us after this and help us to better understand your past and how and when these problems started surfacing.
Clearly, you need a different orientation, understanding and practice of Islam that is not solely about rules. You’re right – you need to get to the root of the problem, which requires someone that is capable of helping you by understanding you and how you got to be where you’re at.
You need to be engaged in meaningful activities that you love, but that also contribute something to the world around you. I don’t know where you were taught that Islam is just about rules and about avoiding hell. Islam is about living a life in fitra, about contributing goodness to the world and about being a real and complete human being.
The rules of our religion exist only to avoid that which is not healthy for us. That’s it, which is what Allah wants, for us to be healthy and happy through our love and attachment to Him.
The few rules that we have in Islam are not meant to suppress or oppress. They are healthy boundaries that are designed to protect us. Even if we cannot see the immediate results of their application, we must know that is what they are for and if you try hard enough, I think you will see that they are for our benefit and never for our harm.
That is why He is the Most Merciful, but we have to realize that by living in a manner that reflects that mercy. It requires operationalization by being merciful to others and to ourselves, not solely following rules to avoid going to hell.
Islam is about realizing your true self, and working/being in a manner that is true to that self. Brooding does not make one a Muslim – doing good out of love of Allah and wanting the best for His creation is.
Also there is no point in working – as you put it – in a manner that makes you resentful toward Islam. Actually, Islam and the rules of religion are not holding you back – you are holding you back because you are stuck in a state of mind and heart that is totally one-sided and lacks the full understanding of what Islam is and is meant to be.
Islam is liberating in the sense that we don’t dwell in guilt in Islam. If we sin, we make tawbah with sincerity, and we move on. We are not Catholics that spend their entire lives drowning in guilt. That is not Islam. If that is what you think Islam is, then you need a new orientation. And my feeling from what you have written is that orientation is a major problem – your orientation to this deen.
Our shari’ah is wide, with different interpretations about many aspects of life. We have different schools of thought/law with different opinions on many matters within those schools. Therefore, the rules of Islam are not as rigid as you seem to think, but we need real knowledge and understanding of how these rules should fit and help us shape our lives; not as some oppressive monster, but as a way of maintaining healthy bodies, minds and relationships, for that is their goal.
The tests that we are put through in life have one purpose and one purpose only – to know and to serve Allah, who is the Most Merciful. Now, I know you’ve heard that before and it doesn’t help you but what you aren’t realizing is that this ‘test’ is not meant to make your life miserable, it’s meant to show us the meaning and composition of Reality itself.
In a well-known Hadith Qudsi, the Prophet SAW said “Allah said, ‘I was a treasure that wished to be known, so I created creation so that I could be known.’” The scholars have determined that from this hadith, we can better understand the meaning of life/existence in sum – that existence itself is a manifestation of God in the form of His Names and Attributes and it is our role/function in this life to know Him.
Therefore, every second of every day our purpose in life is to know Allah in everything we do and experience. Our purpose as the highest of creation, the only form of creation that has been blessed with intellect, is to realize Allah’s greatness, oneness, mercy and love; by what? By manifesting these same beautiful attributes in our lives. We realize when we do.
Confucious said, “What I hear I forget, what I see I remember, what I do, I understand.” This is perennial wisdom, and its truth is that we can only fully understand (i.e. realize) Allah’s mercy and kindness when we do it, which is why when we pray we use our whole bodies, not just our minds and our mouths. We practice surrender to God by physically placing our faces on the ground – an act of humility and self-effacement – so that we can feel surrender, not just say it.
Therefore, our purpose in life is to live life to the fullest in terms of being merciful to creation in a way that is best and easiest for us. By using the natural gifts, affinities and abilities that Allah has given each of us we can fulfill our divine purpose which is to glorify Allah by not ONLY worshipping Him ritually, but by working on His behalf to spread mercy to others.
I say this only to tell you that you need to stop trying to do things out of a need to fulfill a command, and start realizing that the commands, rather, are Allah’s way of getting us to fulfill our divine purpose which is to realize our true selves and live accordingly.
Look at the life of the Prophet SAW who is our greatest example of this. Everywhere he went, with whomever he was with, he was always engaged in an act of worship by helping others, teaching others, smiling, joking, bringing peace to people, and the like. He served his family, helped his friends and was always there for people when they needed him. Even his worst of enemies respected him for his trustworthiness and kindness.
That is what we should be striving for – not perfection but just simply contributing something positive to the world and being ourselves in doing so. The best way to undo feelings of depression, guilt, and general darkness is to give of yourself – to be charitable and selfless for no other reason other than because that is what we are supposed to do. Mind you, these don’t have to be ‘big’ things. Remember, even a smile is a form of charity that is loved by God.
So don’t get the idea in your head that you are not doing ‘enough.’ Just being your true self and not harming others is a form of charity in Islam. Of course, that does not mean we abandon rules and rituals, it means that we put everything in its proper context and place, and understand how these things are helpful and good for us and not meant to be oppressive.
I’m not sure who is teaching you and where you are taking your knowledge from sister, but you a need drastic change in direction. You need to find (and I know I’m probably not helping you by stating that which you already know) a teacher – who is knowledgeable about the heart (i.e. tasawwuf, Sufism), who can understand and help you with your heart – and a community that can support you.
If you email me at email@example.com I can give you some suggestions of people/groups that might be able to help you, in sha’ Allah.
For further guidance, please try the following links:
By: Fatima Bheekoo-Shah
Johannesburg is the business hub of South Africa. Islam has been in practise here since the 1600s, brought by people from other countries who eventually settled in the region. Today, South Africa is home to a number of Islamic educational institutes and masajid (mosques).
In this post, we hear from Fatima Bheekoo-Shah, a resident of Johannesburg.
Experience of Ramadan in Johannesburg
Ramadan here is always a much-anticipated time and Muslims prepare months in advance for its welcome. Although Muslims only make up about 2% of the South African population, the environment and the amenities made available for them make it hard to guess that they are, after all, such a small minority.
While it is a month of fasting, it is ironic that we have many Muslim women who start preparing savouries months in advance. They do this either for their own use or for sale. While much could be said about the merits of this savoury-frenzy, it certainly helps in the build-up to this auspicious month. Qur’an competitions and recitals are also held in Rajab and Sha’ban (months prior to Ramadan) to prepare huffād [plural of hāfid, are Muslims who have completely memorised the Qur’an] for taraweeh.
During Ramadan there is definitely a community spirit in the air. In Cape Town little plates of edibles and sweets are sent to one’s Muslim neighbours. In Johannesburg, it is customary for women to prepare large amounts of soup and savouries, sending them to their local masajid to be distributed among devotees that gather there. Closer to Eid, various charitable organizations call on the community to help package and distribute food and clothes-parcels as part of their charitable campaigns for the less fortunate.
Boosting productivity during Ramadan
Because we are not a ‘Muslim country’ there are no such things as reduced working hours. It is pretty much a normal day with Muslims fasting. This year though, the month of fasting falls during our annual winter holidays. So most schools will remain closed during this period, making things easier for our children. Also, most employees take permission to leave work early.
Spiritually, the masajid run various programs for the community to attend. Most masajid in South Africa, with the exception of a few, perform the full 20 raka’ats of taraweeh. The objective is to complete a full recitation of the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan. It is also usually completed during the last ten nights of the month. Some even strive to complete two such full recitations.
It has become somewhat of a tradition for Mufti Menk to spend Ramadan in South Africa, having a tafsir (exegesis) lecture after taraweeh every evening. Even with taraweeh ending late and Muslims having had a normal workday, the masjid can be seen overflowing with devotees eagerly soaking up wisdom from the Mufti. It is also a very social time for Muslims and having iftar dinners is high on the agenda. Many of these do end before taraweeh prayers, though.
Through Jumu’ah Khutbas (sermons) imams encourage the community to attend prayers at the masjid a few months before Ramadan begins. Charitable organizations also run programs on weekends, where people in poorer communities are treated for iftar.
Because we are not a ‘Muslim country’ we do not face challenges such as Ramadan TV series. Living in a non-Muslim environment makes us yearn to hang on even more to the traditions, culture and practices of Ramadan.
The biggest challenge for those who work is trying to balance work, benefiting from the immense reward of reciting the Qur’an and offering optional prayers. This Jumu’ah, the khateeb (the one delivering a sermon) reminded the people that fasting will actually fall during the World Cup and this should not distract nor prevent us from attending prayers at the masjid.
Overcoming obstacles and making the most out of Ramadan
I have learned to overcome this by planning, planning and more planning.
I wake up an hour before suhoor and recite as much Qur’an as I can. After suhoor I don’t retire to bed; I prepare my meals instead so that there is no rush to do it for iftar in the evening.
At work while performing my salah I use some of my break to read more Qur’an. This helps me complete at least one khatma in the holy month. Once I get home I take a power nap before iftar so that I have ample energy for taraweeh.
Over the last few years, my family and I have cut out oily and all unhealthy food so we do not become lazy and sluggish. This went a long way in helping us enjoy a productive Ramadan and keeping our energy levels constant.
Most group iftar parties are held just before taraweeh so that family and friends can attend the taraweeh in congregation. After taraweeh I go to bed. We also switch off the TV during this month so that our minds are not occupied by it and we don’t waste time during this precious month. Even children get used to this and find healthy alternatives to keep themselves occupied.
Some of the Islamic radio stations broadcast lectures and Qur’an recitation to inspire Muslims throughout Ramadan.
Most importantly, we make a firm intention from the beginning of the month that we will try our best during the coming month. We have goals written down and try to complete them as quickly as we can and motivate ourselves to do more.
The key thing is to be consciously aware that Ramadan is not a month for feasting nor should it be taken easy. Rather, it’s a month to be more productive despite the challenges we face. Renewing our intentions periodically throughout the month and carefully structuring our day will lead to greater productivity on a daily basis, In sha Allah.
I remind myself that the Battle of Badr took place in Ramadan. That in itself is a big motivating factor.
That was a quick and brief look into life and productivity during Ramadan in Johannesburg. What productivity challenges do you face in your locality? What unique ways do you adopt to overcome these challenges? Please share your life experiences in the comments below.